New World Bank President Needs Infrastructure Strategy that Prioritizes the Poor
Infrastructure lending has once again become the World Bank's core business. A new report by International Rivers reviews the bank's track record in the sector, and calls on the new bank president to replace the top-down approach to infrastructure with a strategy that prioritizes the needs of the poor.
In November 2011, the World Bank and the Group of 20 prepared new strategies for infrastructure development. They proposed concentrating public finance on large projects with private participation that can transform whole regions. The bank and the G20 identified the giant Inga hydropower scheme on the Congo River as an example of the proposed approach.
A report published by International Rivers today reviews the track record of the infrastructure strategy that was proposed by the World Bank and the G20. Entitled, Infrastructure for Whom?, the report finds that the focus on large, centralized projects has benefited energy-intensive industries, but bypassed more than a billion poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Donors spent billions of aid dollars for dams and transmission projects at the Inga site on the Congo River, but 94 percent of the population in the DRC still has no access to electricity. The benefits of centralized mega-projects have not trickled down to the poor.
A better approach is available. The report finds that most rural poor live closer to local sources of renewable energy and water than to an electric grid and centralized irrigation systems. It argues that decentralized projects that address the needs of poor people directly are more effective at promoting broad-based economic growth and reducing poverty than centralized mega-projects. Small-scale energy and water projects can also strengthen climate resilience, reduce the social and environmental footprint of the infrastructure sector and strengthen democratic control over essential public services.
Peter Bosshard, policy director at International Rivers and author of the new report, said: "Infrastructure includes local access roads and bridges to nowhere, water supply for the poor and irrigation canals for biofuels. The World Bank needs to start prioritizing projects that directly address the needs of the poor. Decentralized approaches have a better track record of reducing poverty than the top-down projects of the past."
Jim Yong Kim will take office as the World Bank's new president in July. Dr. Kim has done pioneering work in the public health sector by working directly with poor communities. International Rivers has shared a copy of the new report with the new bank president, and urged him to prioritize the needs of poor communities in his infrastructure agenda. Copies of the report were also sent to the World Bank’s management and member governments.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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